The centrifuge spun up to maximum speed. The hum was loud in the silence of the laboratory. She could feel the vibration through the worktop as the glowing numerals on the control panel ticked down towards zero. She sat on a tall stool with her eyes fixed on the transparent lid of the centrifuge and watched as the metal armatures spun test tubes into a glassy pink blur.
Not long now.
A strand of her hair fell across her gaze. She resisted the urge to smooth it away and focused on it instead. The tint of her hair had lost so much colour.
She pulled a curled mass of hair from over her shoulder, separated the strands and held it up to the bright light above the workbench. The corners of her mouth pulled down, which created a deep fissure under her bottom lip. It had faded a lot and in less time. In only nine days her hair had lost that dark, rich variegated colour.
But no-one noticed. No-one commented.
Of course, they never did. Not even if she had stuck a lit firework in each one of their arse cracks. They would clutch at the sudden pain and burp smoke and then carry on as if nothing had happened. They had gotten lost in their worlds of celebrity and television and gossip magazines. They had no understanding, those fake dolls, that they were wasting their time and money on their manufactured looks. If only they knew what she knew: that the perfect look was free. Free to anyone who had the strength and desire to take it.
Well, she had the strength. And she had acted on her desire six times now. Including today.
The first time had lasted for three months: three months of glorious colour, body, tactile bounce and complete control. Every style worked. The colour was a perfect fit for her skin tone. She caught glimpses of her reflection and was struck anew by how stunning her hair looked. She saw it, even if no one else could. Her so-called friends, fake dolls all, did not comment, did not gush, did not congratulate her on her perfect do. They did not try to coerce her into letting slip which salon she had commissioned to perform such a miraculous transformation.
But look at it now. She ran the clumps and knots and split-ends through her fingers. It was a complete horrific disaster.
The numbers on the centrifuge tumbled. She watched the armatures blur. The hum and vibration would have been relaxing if she wasn’t in such a goddamn bitching hurry. She needed it. She needed it right now.
A large section of her scalp started to sting, and she realised that her hand had bunched into a fist as she pulled her hair. She forced her fingers apart. It could not be rushed. Not one step of the process could she bypass. The ritual worked because there were no shortcuts. Shortcuts would be defeating the point, and that would be a waste. That would be dumb. Plain old fake doll dumb.
She flicked the hair back over her shoulder and tried to ignore it. She wanted to yank at the stinking clumps, the split ends and rat-tails, tear it all out, follicles and all, deep cleanse and start again. She sat on her hands and felt the vibrations of the centrifuge through her palms. She must trust in the process, trust in the ritual. Once the cells were separated and mixed with her secret ingredients, she would be beautiful again. Radiant. Gorgeous.
The centrifuge beeped. The numbers read zero. As it spun down, the vibration and hum diminished, slowed, stopped.
She pulled her hands out from under her thighs and clapped them together in front of her face. She caught sight of the dark ground-in stains on the back of her hands and under her fingernails. Her smile faltered as she wondered how long it would take for the stains to come out.
Never mind any of that for now.
She stepped off the stool, her high heels making a loud click-clack on the tiles. She barely noticed the splayed legs on the floor as she stepped over them and approached the workbench. She lifted the beaker of pre-mixed chemicals from the non-slip mat and placed them beside the centrifuge.
She did not glance at the dead woman at her feet or the wasteful puddle that gradually seeped out of her. Wasteful it might be, but it did not matter. It just did not last if she harvested and stored it. Even defrosting it from the freezer would not work. It needed to be warm, and it needed to be fresh. That was all part of the process. And she trusted the process.
She lifted the lid off the centrifuge to see the four test tubes inside. It could hold more - but four were all she needed.
First, she had to get rid of the plasma as it was not required. One at a time, she pulled a test tube from a cradle and poured out the yellowish fluid. A small layer of cells remained in the curved bottom of the tube. With a long glass implement, she scraped and scooped the cells out and tapped them into the beaker of chemicals. Immediately they began to dissolve: tiny trails, like smoke, were left behind as clumps of clotted cells sank to the bottom of the beaker. Each minuscule particle in that suspended smoky trail was a cell. She stirred the liquid with the glass implement, careless about the pinging rattle. The chemicals broke down the cell walls. And here it was, that lush colour, that perfect pigment. She smiled. Her lips were pale and flaking. Her teeth were yellow and covered by a thick layer of plaque which softened their outlines.
She took off her blouse and put a towel around her shoulders. She picked up the beaker. The liquid inside was dimpled as it continued to spin. She clacked over to the sink at the other end of the workbench. She stepped over an out-flung arm and the worst of the spreading stain. She leaned over the sink and poured the liquid over her head. She kneaded the pigment-laden chemicals into her scalp, spreading it out and over her rat-tails and curls. Soon the beaker was empty. A single drop fell from her forehead and onto the stainless steel sink with a plink.
Damn it to hell.
She stood like that for several minutes, breathing in a faint metallic air, hoping for no more drips. One good thing was that the serum dried quickly and there was no need to rinse. Soon enough, she straightened up, slipped the towel from her shoulders, and then shrugged her blouse back on. She clicked out of the lab without a second glance and down a short corridor into the ladies’ bathroom.
She fumbled for the light switch but kept her gaze lowered to the floor as the lights flickered to full brightness. She stood in front of the mirrors and placed her hands on the edge of a sink. Her stained hands looked dark and terrible against the white porcelain.
She made herself wait. She felt an expectant thrill rise within her. She managed to contain a tiny giggle that tried to bubble up from deep inside. She could feel the serum working. She felt her hair feed, the colour being sucked in, every tiny little cell’s worth of pigment.
She stood and flicked her hair up and over her head. All she could see was the colour. She was dazzled by its beauty. She could never go back to the way she had been before. It did not matter how short a time or how much strength and desire she would need.
She laughed at how utterly dumb those fake dolls were.